St. Pio of Pietrelcina, affectionately known as Padre Pio, is one of the most well-known saints in Italy.
He was born in 1887 to a poor family in the small town of Pietrelcina in Campania near Benevento. His mother named him Francesco after St. Francis of Assisi.
As a child Francesco wanted to become a priest, but his parents could not afford to pay for his education. this was a scenario not uncommon in rural Italy in that era. His father lived off the land and although they did not experience privation, there was no extra money for school books and such. So his father went to the United States to find work to be able to afford the academic requirements for Francesco to enter the seminary.
Francesco entered the Capuchin Franciscan Order and after the novitiate was given the religious name Pio (Pius).
Once in the order, Padre Pio began to experience extraordinary graces and supernatural phenomena. At the same time, he was frequently sick which forced him to return home. Back in Pietrelcina, when he was 21 years old, he received the stigmata – the wounds of Christ. This was the first time, though they did not remain.
When his health improved, he returned to the community near Benevento. Yet, his health was still weak and he suffered from various ailments affecting the lungs. Finally, a fellow friar suggested he go to the hill-town of San Giovanni Rotondo, where the air might do good for his health. Once he arrived, Padre Pio knew he would remain there for the rest of his life. It was 1916 and Padre Pio was 29 years old.
San Giovanni Rotondo
Once in San Giovanni Rotondo, the mystical phenomena began that would characterize his life. In 1918, he experienced what is known as Transverberation or the piercing of the heart. People went to him in confession and recounted that Padre Pio could “read their souls” and he knew their sins before confessing them. He frequently prophesied and could foretell the future. There were stories of bilocation where Padre Pio would appear simultaneously in two places at the same time. He had the powers of healing as well.
The phenomenon he was most known for took place on September 20, 1918. On that day Padre Pio received the stigmata, the five wounds of Christ, that remained visibly on his body for the rest of his life. While praying before a crucifix in the choir stall above the ancient church, he not only felt the piercing pain in his hands, feet, and side, they left visible and open wounds.
His superiors ordered Padre Pio to be photographed with the wounds and to undergo medical examinations. The doctors who studied them concluded that the wounds were inexplicable as they did not heal or worsen over time.
When asked about all these phenomena, Padre Pio frequently responded that he himself did not understand them, and they were a mystery even to him.
Soon Padre Pio’s reputation as a mystic and healer began to spread far and wide. People from all over began journeying to San Giovanni Rotondo seeking healings or miracles. Church authorities responded with prudence.
For a period of time, Padre Pio was forbidden from hearing confessions, celebrating Mass in public, and from corresponding with his spiritual sons and daughters. This caused him immense suffering. Later, the order was lifted by the pope himself.
Despite the extraordinary grace and miracles surrounding his life, Padre Pio believed his greatest work was the construction of the hospital he built entirely through donations. Named the Casa Sollievo della Sofferenza (House for Relief of Suffering), Padre Pio worked tirelessly to help the sick.
Padre died on September 23, 1968, a day he had foretold, and his death was mourned throughout all of Italy.
Despite the many controversies in his life, Saint Pio of Pietrelcina was canonized on June 16, 2002 by Pope John Paul II who was devoted to Padre Pio and kept his published letters on his bedside nightstand.
Padre Pio’s tomb in San Giovanni Rotondo is visited by millions of people every year. The miracles and graces people receive through his intercession today is a testament to the veracity of something Padre Pio said frequently while he was still alive: “After my death I will make more noise. My real mission will begin after my death.”